Have you ever heard something come out of your own mouth that stunned you into a horrified silence? And did the person you were speaking to give you a look that said she wasn’t sure she really heard what she thought she heard?
That happened to me. My face still burns when I think about it, and it’s one of those stories that gets passed around at family gatherings a dozen years after the fact. In order not to embarrass anyone else, I’ll use fake names in this confession.
There’s a really nice lady who lives a mile or two down the road from me. We’ve never spent a lot of time together, but our paths cross occasionally, and we’re connected in a way. Her daughter and my daughter married brothers, which makes our grandchildren first cousins. Our granddaughters are just a couple of years apart in age and have shared a number of activities through the years, so this lady and I have sometimes found ourselves at the same events.
I’ve never known her by anything other than her Americanized name, Patty (let’s say), but she was born in Japan. Although she’s been in the U.S. most of her adult life, her speech still evokes visions of kimonos and cherry blossoms. I adore listening to Patty talk. I’ve always been fascinated by foreign accents, and hers is musical, almost. When I listen to her speak, everything else goes out of my head. I know I shouldn’t, but I find myself concentrating on the sound, more than the substance, of what she’s saying. I let her words and phrases roll around in my mind, and I play with them. Silently (and without moving my lips) I practice saying words the way she says them. WARNING: DO NOT DO THIS!
One night after a dance recital, Patty and I ran into each other outside the LSU Union Building and waited together for our daughters and granddaughters to join us. Neither of us had known beforehand that the other’s granddaughter would be dancing, so each of us had brought along a gift for our own grandchild but nothing for the other girl. We held our separate gift bags and chatted for a few minutes about how nice the recital was and how fast our girls were growing up. Once again, I found myself drawn into Patty’s speech patterns. I was enchanted, and as each sentence came out of her mouth, I mentally mimicked it.
Patty, suddenly becoming aware of the gift situation, blurted out, “Oh, no! I not-ta get-ta nut-tin foh Kaaaay-tee!”
To my intense and endless shame, I immediately responded, “Oh, don’t worry about it, I not-ta get-ta nut-tin foh Staaaay-cee.”
Wouldn’t you just die?